Fear, Anxiety, Panic….all are natural feelings that we’ve each had at one point or another in our lives. They are very powerful emotions that if not dealt with properly, can lead to mental breakdown. The key is to not let them consume you. You have to be mindful of them and realize that while the effects of anxiety can feel overpowering, they don’t have control over you. This realization can be an eye-opening one for those suffering from severe anxiety and panic disorder but the only person who can bring yourself to this realization is you. There are people who can help you on your path to gaining control but you hold the key to attaining that control. Not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s this very situation that’s explored in Hobson’s Gate, a new comic from Alternate History Comics. Written and Illustrated by Andy Stanleigh and released earlier this year, the first issue (of three) titled Trauma introduces us to a character who’s battling with anxiety set against a backdrop of murder and mystery.

Detective Joseph Hobson is a Homicide Detective in the district of Southtale Gate. After a leave of absence to deal with mental health issues, he’s returned to a perplexing series of killings happening in the back alleys of his city. There’s no fingerprints, no DNA and no blood other than that from the victims. Each crime scene sports a one word message written in the victim’s blood, different every time. There’s no connection to the murders other than the method in which they are done. Nothing for Hobson to go on. This is his first case back and he wants to solve it before the bodies start piling up. All the while, he’s still dealing with anxiety issues. Can he find the answers he needs to both keep his sanity as well as find the killer who is still at large? It’s safe to say the Detective has his hands full.

While not a new subject to be brought to the comics world, Hobson’s Gate does a great job of tackling it in a way that doesn’t seem preachy or self indulgent. The story hits the emotional level needed to be taken seriously but is able to keep a strong narrative that both entertains and engages the reader. Many other comics dealing with anxiety get hung up on the feelings and effects of anxiety and panic disorder that they tend to give no real context of the characters’ connection to society. Stanleigh avoids this by starting with his main character already in the “recovery” stages of his treatment. By having Hobson already returned to work, we get to see how he deals with the condition in the “real world” instead of just in an isolated environment. This adds both entertainment value and a better understanding of the effects of severe anxiety for those of us who have not dealt with it before. What I also enjoyed was the work that Andy did to give us glimpses of the back story on Hobson’s problem while still moving the story forward. By peppering journal entries throughout the issue, we see a Cliff Notes version of the Detective’s fight with his panic and fear and how it’s affected his life. It’s weird because even though they are full page text pieces with minimal illustrations, they are an odd example of effective “show, don’t tell” storytelling. Standard exposition would feel insincere where these journals feel authentic. This is probably because Stanleigh himself has had history with the disorder and the journals are loosely based on the ones he kept when dealing with his condition. The sequential art portion of the book focuses on the current murder case and the dialogue and pacing shows influences of police procedural television and psychological thrillers. I was very impressed that while dealing with very heady subject matter, Andy still finds the opportunity to fit in a bit of humor into the story without it feeling forced. It’s a brief moment but there is a funny “cop joke” that oddly fits the atmosphere of the book perfectly. My only wish is that I could’ve gotten a bit more character development of the supporting cast of this book. Between the journals and the serial murder case, we get a good picture of Hobson, but characters like Robin, his partner and Sol, his doctor need more fleshing out. This is the first of a three issue story so I’m sure we will see more development as the remaining chapters unfold.

This is a very dark comic with high tension throughout and Stanleigh’s art does a great job to support this tension. Much like his work in TITAN, a graphic novel I’ve previously reviewed on the site, the illustrations are moody and dark with an almost abstract look of the urban environment that the book is set in. The entire book is almost done in shadow with minimal colours dropped in for effect. It’s almost like we’re seeing this world as a rorschach test and the more we look at each drawing, more hints and clues about both Hobson and the case appear to the naked eye. For the most part, this style works well for the story. However, there are times when a little more clarity of image would’ve helped bring certain points across. The overall narrative is solid and the artwork supports it. I did very much enjoy the “gag” of having the processed foods shown in the story adorned with the Alternate History logo. Brand recognition done right.

If you’re looking for a comic that you can not just read but feel, Hobson’s Gate is right up your alley. It’s smartly written with interesting visuals and does a great job of treating the subject matter with the proper respect it deserves without overstating it. I look forward to the other 2 issues of this story and highly recommend it to fans of crime books and character studies alike. You can pick up issue 1 of Hobson’s Gate (Trauma) at the Alternate History Online Store. Check it out and put your mind at ease.

If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!

Sparse and Moody Art set the tone of this psychological thriller dealing with severe anxiety disorder. A hearty read from Andy Stanleigh at AH Comics!